Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Opal Desert

Di Morrissey's latest book is set in the opal fields of New South Wales around Lightning Ridge including the fictitious community of Opal Lake. Here people, at times running away from problems, hope to change their luck by finding the right opal in small minig communities. Some people pass through while others just stay. The book portrays the community spirit that can exist in small outback communities but there is also a man-made darker side lurking in the background that occasionally surfaces in the striking environment of the desert.

The plot revolves around the lives of three women, Shirley who is approaching 80 and has lived much of her life in the area, Kerrie in who 40s who is looking to find new direction in her life after the death of her husband and twenty year old Anna who needs to decide whether she wants to be a career athlete. The three women become friends and gradually reveal their stories and make decisions that will provide them with positive futures.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scarecrow and The Army of Thieves

For a change of pace I decided to read a thriller and knowing how popular the books written by Australian author Matthew Reilly are I chose his latest book, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves.

This  fifth book featuring the character Shane Schofield, also known as Scarecrow, is set on a former Russian military base on Dragon Island in the Arctic Circle. Schofield and a small team of fellow US marines, four civilians plus a robot named Bertie were on assignment in the Arctic testing new equipment in extreme conditions when the call was received to assist a group of Navy SEALS prevent the ignition of a gas cloud emanating from Dragon Island that would result in the destruction of much of the northern hemisphere. The island had been taken over by a group of two hundred men named the Army of Thieves comprised primarily of felons who had been released from prisons via a series of surprise raids during the previous year. A number of daring hijacks had provided this army with high power weapons and ammunition. Communications relayed to Schofield's group indicated that they had less than five hours to stop the blast.

Scenes of death and destruction abound and the description of methods of torture are graphic as the group valiantly fights against the odds to stop the detonation of the gas cloud. To say that there is plenty of action and tension in this book would be an understatement.

In the acknowledgements at the end of the book Reilly states that he writes to entertain and that he firmly believes that 'reading for enjoyment has value in our world'. He certainly succeeds in Scarecrow and the Army of the Thieves.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Radical Melbourne

Jeff and Jill Sparrow have written an alternative history of Melbourne with accounts of events and interpretation of the history of the city not usually provided in other history books. Fifty sites around Melbourne feature in this book and the map provided allows the reader to easily locate each site. The map can also be used as a walking tour of Melbourne.

The book begins in the Flagstaff Gardens - the site of the first cemetery in Melbourne as well as being, in 1842, the location of a riot of immigrant workers against the reduction of their wages. The next site is that of the Old Melbourne Cemetery where Queen Victoria Market now stands. Identified bodies were removed but thousands of bodies remain beneath part of the market site. Many of the sites are the location of protests, riots or demonstrations or buildings associated with groups such as the Communist Party, Victorian Socialists League, Movement Against War and Fascism and Progressive Spiritualist Lyceum. Fittingly the final chapter is about the Trades Hall.

Radical Melbourne provides a useful addition to the history of the city until the late 1930s however the frequent anti-establishment comments from the authors become a little grating after a while.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Explosive eighteen

 Returning from a supposed holiday in Hawaii Stephanie discovers that the passenger sitting next to her on the first leg of the flight was murdered during the stop-over in Los Angeles. She also discovers a mystery photograph in her bag which she assumes that she accidentally picked up when purchasing a magazine at the airport. Discarding the photograph she is then pursued by two groups of men purporting to be from the FBI, a woman claiming to be the fiancee of the murder victim and a crazed man trying to kill her. As to be expected in a Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novel there is plenty of action and lots of humour as Stephanie tries to sort out her over complicated life. There is also the unresolved question of her relationships with Morelli and Ranger, problems at the bond office, challenges in apprehending skips plus the effects of a 'love potion'. An entertaining read.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Greece and Crete: Australians in World War II

Published by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011 the book deals with the brief stay of the AIF in both these countries, including the evacuations, in 1941. My father was not well enough to travel with the 2 / 4th Battalion when they were sent to Greece but he was on one of the ships that formed the convoy that evacuated the troops from Crete in May 1941. The story of the Australian involvement is largely told through first hand accounts of those who survived the experience. Photographs are from the collection of the Australian War Memorial. The book is also available online on the DVA website where individual chapters can be downloaded. The chapter 'Remember this is War' provides an account of the evacuation of Crete.

Many books have been written about the few months that comprised this short episode in World War II including Crete: the battle and the resistance by Antony Beevor. Maria Hill in her book Diggers and Greeks has written an account of the relationship forged between the Greeks and people of Crete towards Australians as a result of the attempt of the Anzacs to assist the peoples of these countries. White over green: the 2 / 4th Battalion and reference to the 4th Battalion also includes a section about the involvement of that battalion in Greece and Crete.

2011 was the seventieth anniversary of the campaign in Greece and Crete. The Shrine of Remembrance had an exhibition to commemorate the event - Greece,Crete and Syria: the AIF in the Eastern Mediterranean 1941.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Unpolished gem

Members of Alice Pung's family left China for Cambodia but then fled to Vietnam during the Pol Pot regime. Other family members endured the 'killing fields' before arriving in Vietnam some years later. Alice's parents then moved to Thailand before emigrating to Australia. Alice was born shortly after her parents arrived in this country. Alice's memoir is the story of the survival of the family as they seek sanctuary in another country plus the wonderment of family members at the opportunities available to them in their new home. Over the years other family members join them.

It is a story of assimilation as members of the family adapt to living in Australia but it is easier for some members to adjust to the new life than others. Her father learns English and with the partnership with other family members manages electrical appliance stores. Alice's mother however, largely due to her lack of English, finds her new life especially challenging. Alice, on the other hand, discovers that she is losing her connections to the Chinese language. Sacrifices are made to ensure that the children receive a good education creating additional pressures on the students to do well academically but also  to help the family business in any spare time. These pressures faced by children of many immigrant families ensures that the students, although they may do well academically, are always on the fringe at school. Despite these challenges Alice studies law at Melbourne University.

The conflicts between Asian ways, including the demands and expectations of the extended family, and adjusting to the customs of a new country are a major theme of the book.